TORONTO — Time is without a doubt ticking on the Toronto Blue Jays’ wild-card hopes, but the general manager is still confident there’s enough sand left in the hourglass.
With 33 games to go heading into Monday night’s series opener against the lowly Baltimore Orioles, the Jays’ post-season odds, per FanGraphs’ estimation, sat at just 7.6 per cent.
GM Ross Atkins, however, is optimistic.
“We feel good about the team, we feel good about the shape of the organization and feel that we have enough season left to really make a good run,” Atkins said from the Blue Jays dugout Monday afternoon. “We have yet to have all things clicking at once. Even in that 9-2 stretch (to begin the month of August), it was really our pitching that kind of carried us through that. We’ve yet to have a time where all things have been happening for this team and very confident that it’s in our future and, certainly, hopeful it starts soon.”
The O’s haven’t put up many fights this season, so they’re a good tonic for what ails the offensively-challenged Jays these days.
But the big series on this homestand is the upcoming weekend three-gamer with the Oakland A’s, a team in the exact same position — on the fringes of the wild-card race and facing an uphill battle — as Atkins’ club.
Twenty-two wins from here on out would get the Jays to 90 wins on the season, but that’s the absolute minimum it’s going to take in the American League.
It’s much more likely to take 92 or 93 wins to earn the second wild-card berth, leaving the Jays facing a stretch where they truly need to go 25-8 to have a chance.
If the Jays are going to get red hot like that, an offence that has averaged just 2.7 runs over its last 10 games will have to find its previous form.
“It’s just so magnified, I think, with where we are in the standings, how well they have performed offensively all year,” Atkins said of his team’s offensive struggles. “We’ve had so many big individual performances and in many cases a lot of really good team performance from an offensive standpoint. It’s a combination of guys just hitting a little bit of a lull, which does happen, and if we had the answer to why that’s occurring then it would be occurring less.”
THINGS I PROBABLY TWEETED
Bargain buys in the winter months are key to every team’s success, but it’s pretty amazing to think that Robbie Ray and Chicago White Sox lefty Carlos Rodon were both extreme reclamation projects this winter — Ray settled for a one-year pact for $8 million, while Rodon was even less at just $3 million — and now they’re two of the American League Cy Young favourites. Combined, they’re making a million less than Tanner Roark is to pitch for the Atlanta Braves’ Triple-A affiliate … He was their ace last year and earned a Cy Young nomination because of it, but it’s been a much more uneven season for Hyun Jin Ryu in his second in Blue Jays’ colours. Since June 4, a span of 15 starts, the veteran’s ERA is 4.75 … Santiago Espinal (right hip flexor) is going to be sidelined for an extended period, leaving Breyvic Valera and Kevin Smith patch up the 3B job for the time being. In his second big-league season, Espinal, 26, has proven to be a key role player as the bat has shown some life. Since May 27, across 153 trips to the plate, Espinal has slashed .326/.401/.415 and played terrific defence at the hot corner with plus-7 Defensive Runs Saved.
STAT DIG: .684
Since the start of 2018, the Jays have been able to take full advantage of the lowly Baltimore Orioles.
Coming into Monday’s three-game series, the Jays had run up a 39-18 record against the O’s in that timeframe, and that .684 winning percentage is their third-best against any club, behind the Miami Marlins (.727) and the Kansas City Royals (.714).
Coincidently, that winning percentage might be close to what the Jays need to do in order to secure a wild-card spot a month from now.
A 23-10 record (.697) over their final 33 games would have them in the conversation.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“It’s the time where we’re either planning vacations or making that push and, I think, the guys want to make a push. This was huge tonight. Hopefully we can get on a roll right here and go win a ton of ballgames.”
—Alek Manoah after Saturday’s road win in Detroit
THE CALL-UP LIST
Five players closest to a promotion to the big leagues when a need arises:
1—RHP Nate Pearson, Triple-A: Now five rehab appearances into his return from a sports hernia, tightening up the command is the final item on the checklist before the 25-year-old is part of the big-league bullpen.
2—RHP Julian Merryweather, Triple-A: Merryweather’s first Triple-A rehab appearance Saturday was up and down, but the important thing was he came out of the outing feeling good. Merryweather and Pearson are both expected to pitch Tuesday for the Bisons.
3—RHP AJ Cole, Triple-A: Three of Cole’s four appearances since starting rehab from an oblique injury earlier this month have been scoreless outings.
4—LHP Ryan Borucki, Triple-A: The lefty tossed a scoreless frame Sunday for the Bisons, allowing one hit and having a wild pitch get away from him.
5—RHP Thomas Hatch, Triple-A: Hatch is still stretched out and serving as break-glass-in-case-of-emergency rotation depth.
Highlighting one player in the system that you need to know about:
C Gabriel Moreno, Double-A New Hampshire
Sidelined since June with a fractured thumb after being hit by a pitch, the top prospect in the Jays’ system is close to a return.
Moreno, who’s been rehabbing at the club’s Florida complex, was finally able to pick up a bat recently and Atkins believes the 21-year-old should be back in a box score shortly.
“He’s progressing well and could be playing baseball here soon,” Atkins said. “He’s doing all baseball activities, it’s just a matter of now having his body ready to play five to seven to nine innings.”
Moreno is likely to return to Double-A, but the organization would love to see him get a cup of coffee in Triple-A to end the year, as well.
Whether that happens will be all about timing.
“It’ll just depends on how he’s feeling, recovering and what our options are at that point,” Atkins said.
Moreno was putting together a first half for the ages, slashing .373/.441/.651 with eight homers in 32 games before getting hurt.
After starting the year as the organization’s No. 6 prospect Moreno quickly proved that was too low and — spoiler alert! — will absolutely be at No. 1 when the 2022 top 50 list comes out next January.
The most reasonable big-league ETA for Moreno is next June, but the Jays will have an interesting winter when it comes to the catching position as they’ll have to figure out how Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire and Alejandro Kirk all fit into the long-term picture.